Tuesday, January 29, 2013

{redux} cheerful weather for the wedding

Simon of Stuck In A Book suggested a readalong of Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. Below, I reprint my review, originally blogged in September 2011. 

Julia Strachey by Dora Carrington (1925; source)

A reread has not altered my opinion in any way of this book - I loved it, despite its EXTREME MISERY. If anything, rereading made me admire even more the atmosphere created by Strachey - all suffocating in colours and flowers and smells and enclosed spaces (to which I can now add a detail I missed the first time - the tortoise in the tin). 

The symbolic overload (including things like people's hands: some 'like raw meat chops', others 'wrinkled claws') is completely oppressive, filled with that 'feeling of dismal foreboding'. Elements of this book go through one like a knife: I think, for instance of the mother, Mrs Thatcham, who judges a day's beauty by how far one can see, yet is completely blind to what has happened on this, that allegedly most cheerful of days.

Julia Strachey with a feline companion (source)

A feline companion (George) with Julia Strachey

*  *  *

Julia Strachey Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (1932 [Persephone 2002])

And yet it hadn't been love, but some depressing kind of swindle after all, it seemed.
Wow, this is a miserable little book. But it is also utterly mesmerisingly wonderful, especially if, like me, you like your modernism in small jewel-like doses. The story covers a scant day in the life of Dolly Thatcham, who is to marry the Hon. Owen Bigham, a groom very much on his dignity. As the preparations for the wedding unfold, and the wedding party rub up against each other in the cramped space of the Thatcham house, silences are broken and secrets revealed. Dolly's life falls slowly and gently and irreversibly to pieces as her domineering and socially manipulative mother struggles to hold the wedding party together.
Dolly finished washing, arranged her black hair with the rust-red strips in it neatly. She dipped something that looked like a limp orange 'Captain' biscuit into a pink bowl on the dressing-table, and afterwards dabbed and smeared it all over her reproachful-looking face, leaving the skin covered over evenly with a light corn-coloured powder.
The whole toilet was carried out as a performing elephant might make its toilet sitting up in a circus ring, -- languidly, clumsily, as though her arms were made of iron.
...
Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward.
She was aware of this; but it was as if she were reading about it in a book from the circulating library, instead of herself living through it.
A couple of things really stood out for me in this book, and I assume that they can pretty much all be read symbolically if it is your bent to crawl about under the surface of this novella. The most obvious is the descriptions of the flowers in the house with their jewel-like colours and powerful, masking scents and arrangements. Colours and marks seem highly charged as well, perhaps to the point of over-kill, as in the bride's soiled white slippers and an unfortunate incident with an ink-well. [OK, she's not a virgin; we get it!] Then there are the mirrors, perhaps part of the distortions of truth which will come out as the story progresses? 

I can see that the overload of symbolism might be overwhelming for some readers, but I thought its suffocating relentlessness totally suited the evocation of the bride's sense of despair at her inability to halt disaster. And then there's all the talking, talking, talking but no one ever saying what they really mean until it is far too late. 

Persephone end-paper, 'Butterflies' by Madeleine Lawrence. 

Rating: 10/10. 

If you liked this... the only book I've read recently which can match this one for sheer misery is May Sinclair's The Life and Death of Harriett Frean. [ed. I might now add F. M. Mayor's The Third Miss Symons to this list of miserable yet unputdownable books]


10 comments:

  1. What a wonderful review, Vicki! Like you, I spotted much more about the descriptions and their effect on the second time around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Simon - and thanks for the opportunity for a spot of rereading: a great idea.

      Delete
  2. Hehehe, I am enjoying catching up with everyone else's reviews now I've posted my own. I must admit I was most curious about yours and Simon's since I knew you both enjoyed it where I didn't. I really didn't know when I picked it up that this was such a 'marmite' book but it's always good to see why someone else had the opposite reaction!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder whether I would have liked it so much if it was longer - I suspect not! It's jewel-like-ness (?word) is suited to the short form.

      Delete
  3. Haven't heard of the book Vicki but it's going on my list. Will come back to the reviews afterwards. I love the cover!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really enjoyed your review, Vicki! I should reread this too. I had forgotten just how much darkness there was under the surface of the book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Helen! It is dark, isn't it? despite all those lovely jewel colours and all those pretty flowers. (It is also a lovely short re-read.)

      Delete

{READ IN 2016}

  • (K = Kindle; rr = re-read)
  • NOVEMBER
  • 88.
  • 87.
  • 86. It Might Lead Anywhere [Bobby Owen 22] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 85. There's a Reason for Everything [Bobby Owen 21] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 84. Secrets Can't Be Kept [Bobby Owen 20] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • OCTOBER
  • 83. Night's Cloak [Bobby Owen 19] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 82. The Conqueror Inn [Bobby Owen 18] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 81. The Diabolic Candelabra [Bobby Owen 17] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 80. The Dark Garden [Bobby Owen 16] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 79. Picture Miss Seeton - Heron Carvic [K]
  • 78. Down Under (Benbow Smith 4) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 77. Walk with Care (Benbow Smith 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 76. Danger Calling (Benbow Smith 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 75. Fool Errant (Benbow Smith 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 74. The Annam Jewel - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 73. Mr Zero - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 72. Will o' the Wisp - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 71. Red Shadow - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 70. Pursuit of a Parcel (Lamb 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 69. Who Pays the Piper (Lamb 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 68. The Blind Side (Lamb 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 67. Outrageous Fortune - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 66. The Amazing Chance - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 65. Red Stefan - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • AUGUST
  • 64. The Coldstone - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 63. Anne Belinda - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 62. The Black Cabinet - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 61. Hue & Cry - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 60. The Skin Collector - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 59. The Kill Room - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 58. Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 57. Kingdom Lost - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 56. Beggar's Choice - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 55. Hole and Corner - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 54. Touch and Go - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 53. The Red Lacquer Case - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 52. Run! - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 51. Fear by Night - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • JULY
  • 50. The Dower House Mystery - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 49. The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 48. Weekend with Death - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 47. Blindfold - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 46. Silence in Court - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 45. Acts of the Assassins - Richard Beard [K]
  • JUNE
  • 44. Hack - Kieran Crowley [K]
  • 43. The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie [K]
  • 42. The Spirit Murder Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • MAY
  • 41. The Ginger Cat Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 40. The Pleasure Cruise Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 39. The Polo Ground Murder - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • APRIL
  • 38. The Outsider - Jason Dean [K]
  • 37. The Hunter's Oath - Jason Dean [K]
  • 36. Missing or Murdered - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 35. The Beetle - Richard Marsh [K]
  • MARCH
  • 34. A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1) - Deanna Raybourn [K]
  • 33. The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia [K]
  • 32. An Infamous Army - Georgette Heyer [K]
  • 31. Mr Bazalgette's Agent - Leonard Merrick
  • 30. Don't Tell - Karen Rose [K]
  • 29. Say Goodbye - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 28. Gone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 27. The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 26. The Next Accident - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 25. The Third Victim - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • FEBRUARY
  • 24. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 23. Find Her - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 22. Fear Nothing - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 21. Catch Me - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 20. Love You More - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 19. Live to Tell - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 18. The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 17. Hide - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 16. Alone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 15. The Humans - Matt Haig [K]
  • 14. Utopian Man - Lisa Lang
  • 13. Love Insurance - Earl Derr Biggers [K]
  • JANUARY
  • 12. The Ignition Effect - Viv Ronnebeck [K]
  • 11. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin [K]
  • 10. Dangerous & Unseemly - K. B. Owen [K]
  • 9. In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward [K[
  • 8. Half a Crown - Jo Walton [K]
  • 7. Ha'penny - Jo Walton [K]
  • 6. Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - Grant Allen [K]
  • 5. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 4. Blue Murder - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 3. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 2. Knock, Murderer, Knock! - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 1. Ten Star Clues [Bobby Owen 15] - E. R. Punshon [K]